The cost-of-living crisis is cutting lives short as the health gap widens between rich and poor, according to new research from the University of Glasgow.
Without Government support, people in the most deprived areas would see their lives reduced by nearly three years due to the impacts of inflation.
Researchers estimate that the number of people dying before age 75 is set to rise by nearly 6.5 per cent, and people in the most deprived areas are four times more likely to die early than those living in more well-off neighbourhoods.
The findings are published in the BMJ Public Health journal and highlight that the economy matters for population health. The researchers suggest there is a need for the Government to focus on reducing poverty in the most deprived parts of the UK to protect the health of people living in these areas.
The study looked at the impact of inflation on death rates between September 2022 and September 2023 in Scotland. Using modelling techniques, they could predict a range of possible outcomes based on how recent high inflation levels would affect household incomes and how mitigation measures instigated by the Government would modify these effects. The data was examined in relation to death rates and life expectancy to determine the mortality effects of the increased cost of living.
Without the mitigation measures in place, inflation would have ranged from just under 15 per cent in the wealthiest households to just under 23 per cent in the poorest. With mitigation measures in place, inflation was reduced to between 12 and 16 per cent, respectively. Even with Government support, the poorest households would be expected to be £1,400 worse off in 2022-3.
Professor Gerry McCartney, from the University of Glasgow, said: ‘Our study estimates the impact inflation is having on mortality. We estimate that inflation, even with the mitigations put in place by the UK Government last year, contributed to an increase in premature mortality of over 6 per cent. The impacts of this are greater in more deprived areas.’
Death rates were found to increase by five per cent in the least deprived areas and by 23 per cent in the most deprived areas where there was no Government intervention to address the rising cost of living. Mitigation measures, such as the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) and the Cost of Living Support, would lower the death rates to between three per cent and 16 per cent and two and eight per cent respectively.
The most significant reductions in life expectancy were found in the most deprived areas and ranged from 2.7 years without Government mitigation measures, to one year with both the EPG and the Cost of Living Support in place.
Professor McCartney added: ‘The impacts of austerity and the pandemic are now likely to be compounded by the higher prices being faced by the population, and especially by those living in the most difficult circumstances. Governments should focus on reducing poverty and reversing the austerity policies that have reduced the incomes and services available to those on the lowest incomes in order to protect the health of the population.’
The researchers state that the recent economic conditions of the UK have caused ‘a stalling of life expectancy’ and suggest that the current public policy response to inflation is insufficient to protect health and prevent widening inequalities between rich and poor.